I often appreciate journalist Sandy Banks’ opinion pieces in the Los Angeles Times. She’s a middle-aged, African-American, single mother of two young adult women with insights born only of lived experience.

Yesterday’s piece on “Drunkeness isn’t Consent: The Steubenville rape case shows the perils of binge drinking” hits home for me. While never a black-out drinker, I too drank excessively in my youth and put myself in precarious positions–both with men and otherwise. And one of those times I was raped by a man whom I’d met through mutual friends at a bar.

I made poor choices that night–choices I would not have made if I were sober. When push came to shove and he took things further than I wanted, he overpowered me. I fought, screamed, bit him, pulled on his genitals and did all I could to stop him. I said “NO” very loudly and clearly in every way. His physical strength proved greater than my will and effort to resist. My only consolation was that I’d actively fought off his violence throughout and made it as miserable an experience for him as possible. I knew I’d not consented to intercourse and made sure he had the bruises on his arms and body to prove it.

The next morning, after I’d “come to”, I called the rape crisis hotline, connected with a counselor who met me at the hospital where I received services and filed a police report. When all was said and done with the criminal investigation (he spent the weekend in jail and got out on bail), it came down to his word against mine. The kind female representative from the district attorney’s office handling the investigation basically told me that if I went to court, I’d have to prove I hadn’t given consent. She said that in light of the circumstances surrounding the events, including the fact that we’d been seen enjoying each others company in a public setting and leaving the bar together, his attorney could skew the evidence to defend the rapists innocence and make it a miserable experience for me in cross-examination.

Bottom-line: I didn’t have a strong case! I dropped the charges.

Justice? Ha!

I rejoice that this young woman’s case brought some degree of justice. Sadly, due to many factors, including the social pressurs of what’s been termed “rape culture“,  in most cases no one is every charged with a crime let alone prosecuted. The justice system is still woefully inadequate when it comes to prosecuting rape.

But the point I want to make here, is that while “NO” is always “NO” and drunkenness is not consent, all of us must be much more careful about our relationship to alcohol.

Banks writes, “We have to impress upon our sons and daughters the dangers of binge drinking…” I’d take it a step further to say, all drinking. Studies show that even small amounts of alcohol can impair decision making capacities.

I don’t blame myself for the rape. But I do take responsibility for the choices I made that contributed to my poor decisions that night. It’s difficult work to tease out what is not my responsibility (the rape) from what is (my excessive drinking). Both are expressions of human desire for pleasure gone awry.

When used separately or together in a responsible way, both sex and alcohol have tremendous power to deepen our capacity for joy and intimacy. But, they also make a lethal combination when used irresponsibly–as in the Steubenville case.

Just like we need to make responsibility choices about drinking and driving, so too we need to be wise about social drinking. Not just for teenagers who shouldn’t be drinking anyway, but for young adults and the rest of us. The potential risks of alcohol use far out-weigh the benefits. Isn’t that pretty obvious?